While gun control wins in Connecticut, it flounders in Washington

Washington – Gun control advocates had big wins this week in Connecticut, Maryland and Colorado, but attempts to tighten gun laws have hit major snags in Washington.

The Senate was expected to take up a package of gun-control bills next week that is much weaker than legislation approved by Connecticut and other states.

For example, Maryland’s law would not only ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, but also requires fingerprinting those who seek gun licenses — a new requirement. In contrast, attempts to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines through federal regulation were abandoned by Democratic leaders who realized they could not secure support for those measures in the Democratic-controlled Senate, much less the GOP-held House.

The gun-control package before Congress is bare-boned. It would expand FBI background checks of gun buyers and increase federal penalties for gun trafficking and so-called “straw purchases” — buying a gun for a felon or anyone else prohibited by law from owning one.

Still, gun control advocates are backing attempts in Washington to change gun laws because gun buyers can easily avoid one state’s restrictions by shopping in another with weaker laws.

“The legislation passed in Hartford will go a long way toward reducing gun violence in Connecticut, but it’s not enough,” said Neil Heslin, father of a 6-year-old slain in Sandy Hook Elementary School. “All across the country, children just like my murdered son, Jesse, remain vulnerable because of their state’s weak gun laws. Congress must act now…”

Even the stripped-down bill that will be considered by the Senate has provoked strong opposition from gun rights advocates like the National Rifle Association that warned of a federal gun registry — something that is currently outlawed — if background checks are expanded to nearly all gun buyers.

That provoked the threat of a filibuster from five Republican senators — Rand Paul of Tennessee, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida and James Inhofe of Oklahoma — and forced a postponement of the federal gun bill as gun-control advocates struggle to find 60 votes that would end a filibuster.

“If we have to replace the current background check language with compromise language — which we hope to be able to do — we can’t get the bill to the floor until the week of April 15 due to GOP vows to use all the tools at their disposal to delay the process for as long as possible,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide said.

Despite the challenges, Connecticut’s senators are optimistic.

“The most important fact is that the majority of Americans want background checks,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “We all agree there are some people who shouldn’t own guns.

Blumenthal  said he plans to introduce an amendment to the bill that would add the high-capacity magazine ban. He said he believes it may have enough support for approval, even if a ban on assault weapons does not.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who plans to co-sponsor Blumenthal’s amendment, agrees.

“There are a good number of number of [lawmakers] who don’t support an assault weapons ban who do support a ban on high-capacity magazines,” he said.

Murphy also said Republicans will suffer a negative reaction from the public if they insist  on holding up the Senate gun bill.

But he also said he “would not deny [the NRA’s] influence still remains” in Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week plunged into efforts to find the handful of Republican votes that are needed to move forward on gun bills and persuade skittish Democrats from rural states to stay loyal on the issue.

To pressure Republicans, Reid produced a two-minute video featuring clips of various Republicans — including Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona,  Roy Blunt of Missouri,  John McCain of Arizona, Johnny Isakson of Georgia  and Dean Heller of Nevada — saying in past interviews that they would consider supporting universal background checks.

But right now, only two Republican senators are considered “yes” votes on the gun bill, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois.

Last week, President Obama visited Colorado, the site of two mass shootings, and will visit Hartford Monday to try to bolster public sentiment for gun control and make it easier for senators to vote for it.

Gun control groups are also busily trying to counter the NRA’s influence in Washington.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group founded and funded largely by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has collected 1.75 million signatures on petitions asking members of Congress to approve universal background checks, tougher penalties for gun trafficking — and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Brian Malte, director of mobilization for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said gun-control advocates are just now matching the NRA in the amount of effort  lobbying Congress.

Malte said he’s hopeful this Congress will approve the universal background check and trafficking gun bill. If Congress fails to approve Blumenthal ‘s amendment to ban high-capacity magazines —  and another one that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., plans to introduce that would ban assault weapons —  a future Congress might do so, Malte said.

“This is never won and done,” he said.